BOCA RATON, Fla. – Ze’Rik Onyema posted his second career double-double (11 points, career-high 11 rebounds), but UTEP dug itself a big hole early and could never fully recover in a 75-49 loss at 2023 Conference USA regular-season champion (RV) Florida Atlantic in front of a school-record capacity crowd (3,130) Saturday afternoon.
The Miners (13-16, 6-12 C-USA) led 2-0 before the Owls (26-3, 16-2 C-USA) struck back with a 30-8 run to put the Orange and Blue down by 20. UTEP clawed its way back to within nine on two occasions but could get no closer than that as FAU wrapped the regular season undefeated at home at 17-0.
Calvin Solomon joined Onyema in double figures with 13 points while Hardy added eight. It marked the fifth straight double-digit scoring effort for Onyema, matching his career long, while Solomon extended his streak to four tilts. Shamar Givance and Kevin Kalu pitched in six points apiece. The Miners shot a season-high 80.0 percent (12-15) from the charity stripe.
Onyema’s 11 boards were a game high, with Solomon and Kalu snagging five each to buoy his efforts. UTEP was hindered by shooting 33.3 percent (18-54) from the floor, including 1-10 (10.0 percent) from distance.
The home side connected on 49.1 percent (27-55), including a barrage of 3-pointers (11-26, 42.3 percent).
FAU placed four in double figures in scoring, including Alijah Martin’s game-high 21 points.
“Credit to FAU, they stuck together and didn’t move to the portal (last year),” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “They came back and have a darn good basketball team. They hit 11 3-pointers and we had no chance. Our ball movement wasn’t good tonight. I thought we took tough shots. When you take tough shots and turn it over, they get in transition. It wasn’t pretty for us.
“We’ve got to get back to El Paso,” Golding said. “We’re banged up, we’re hurt. We competed at times, but we have a short bench.”
Solomon got the Miners on the board first as he backed down the defender and floated home the shot. FAU struck back with eight straight before a nifty move along the baseline from Onyema halted the run to make it 8-4 in favor of the home side (16:16 1H). That was followed by a stop and a score from Otis Frazier III, cutting the deficit to two.
FAU roared back with five quick points out of the media timeout to jump out by seven (13-6, 13:45 1H) and force a timeout from Golding. The run stretched to 11-0 after two more treys from FAU, prompting Golding to burn another timeout with the deficit at 13 (19-6, 12:28 1H).
UTEP halted the surge after Onyema cleaned up a miss by Jamari Sibley with a powerful two-hand slam. The Owls countered with a 6-0 push to put the Orange and Blue down 25-8 (10:01 1H). Hardy splashed home a jumper to stop the mini run. FAU managed to nudge the margin out to 20 (30-10, 6:42 1H), but UTEP refused to quit.
It punched back with 11 in a row to reduce the differential down to 9 (30-21, 1:13 1H). Kalu initiated it with four consecutive free throws, which was followed by a lay-up by Hardy. After another stop, Hardy hit two free throws. Givance then buried a high-arching 3-pointer over 7-1 Vladislav Goldin.
FAU finally broke its six-minute scoring drought with a lay-up to beat the halftime buzzer, putting the Orange and Blue down by 11 (32-21) heading into the locker room.
Solomon got the Miners on the board first to start the second half with a deft touch on a shot down low. After a couple of empty trips for both sides, FAU nailed a transition trey to put UTEP back down by double digits (35-23 17:16 2H).
The home side eventually inched the margin back out to 20 (53-33, 11:17 2H). The Miners kept battling down the stretch but couldn’t get closer than 17 the rest of the way.
UTEP returns to El Paso for the final two-game homestand of the regular season. The Miners kick things off by playing host to WKU on March 2 at 7 p.m. Jon Teicher (42nd year) and Steve Yellen (20th year) will be on the call on “The Home of UTEP Basketball” 600 ESPN El Paso. It will also stream on ESPN+ with Erik Elken and former Miner Hooper Vint describing the action. To purchase tickets, visit www.UTEPMiners.com/Tickets or call (915) 747-UTEP. Prices start as low as $9.15.